Exploiting religion, in the name of religion

Bassem Youssef
Bassem Youssef
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
10 min read

We always remind ourselves that the aim of what happened in Egypt on June 30 was not ousting Mohammad Mursi, instead it was a complete comprehensive revolution against religious fascism and against involving religion in politics. One of the first statements made by the transitional authority is that Egypt will not allow forming religious parties because we have seen how mixing religion with politics corrupts the latter and makes people run from religion.

This is a nice and reasonable narrative that I cannot say anything about. But what is ironic is the presence of the al-Nour Party in the general scene of June 30. According to what I know, al-Nour isn’t a liberal party. We watched in surprise every time the al-Nour Party objected to choosing a premier or to cancelling Article 219 of the constitution. And we then wondered: If the revolution was not only against the Brotherhood but also against religious fascism, why are we still very lenient with the al-Nour Party when it is the party with the most extremist articles in the constitution laid out by the Brotherhood. Al-Nour’s leadership, along with the Brotherhood, contributed to lying to the people. They were the ones behind eliminating women from electoral lists. Al-Nour's members, leadership and clerics were present in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square and they also made inciting speeches, like Brotherhood leaders or Brotherhood-linked Islamists Safwat Hegazy and Mohammad el-Beltagy did. Despite that, al-Nour’s members were not pursued, the party was not dissolved and the Salafist Dawa was not declared prohibited or a terrorist organization.

We, on a daily basis, hear of the arrests of Brotherhood leaders over charges of inciting violence. How come we do not hear of the arrests of Salafist clerics who stood with Mursi and who called for the perishing of all June 30 protestors and who incited against the Shiites?
So we once again wonder, were the June 30 events only against the Brotherhood? Or were they against religious fascism in general and for the sake of banning religious parties as we previously mentioned?

Let’s return to the issue of banning religious parties.

In fact, even if a republican, constitutional, parliamentarian, popular and military decision is issued today stipulating that forming religious parties is forbidden, the al-Nour Party would not be harmed at all.

In our Arab world, no matter how much authority pretends to be civil, it needs religion to provide a legitimate cover for everything it does

Bassem Youssef

Al-Nour itself said it isn’t a religious party and that it welcomes the membership of the Copts!

What can you do about that? Can you prove it is a religious party?

How will religious parties be dissolved when nothing in their official papers state they are religious parties? If you request the party be dissolved, they will claim the party is based upon the second article of the constitution. In this case, will anyone dare demand cancelling this article?

We may have gone too far in believing we could finally separate religion from the state and that we will eliminate extremism. The truth is, religion is a very beneficial tool whether it’s purely used as a religious authority or as an authority pretending to be civilian. In many cases, the authority needs a “brave pinch of religion” to pass the policies it wants. Anwar al-Sadat did that by using the Brotherhood to confront the leftists. Hosni Mubarak did that by using the Salafists against the Brotherhood. Therefore, don’t be surprised that clerics of the Salafist Dawa and members of al-Nour came out during Mursi’s reign to refer to “legitimacy evidence” and state that attacking Mursi and the Brotherhood is an attack against Islam. Don’t be surprised that Yasser Barahami, head of the Salafist Dawa, came out last week to state that the West’s attack against General Abdelfattah al-Sissi is also an attack against Islam.
This is not political Islam. This is called political gymnastics!

Shifting loyalties

This is not a strange of an act for a party whose clerics and media outlets compared Mursi to prophets and their companions. The party’s clerics and media also said that the entirety of the Egyptian people are religious and want a bearded man who prays as their president.

It is either one of two. Either the Egyptian religious people in support of legitimacy migrated or they no longer believes in religion and legitimacy (thanks to you of course) and thus only 100,000 believers are left.

What is strange is that the state which announced war on religious fascism is accepting the al-Nour Party although the latter’s objection to the Brotherhood is that “it did not implement sharia,” as they see fit. You and I both know that al-Nour has a vision of sharia which can at the very least be described as extremist.

But it’s okay, this party has its benefits. They compared Mursi and his comrades with the prophet’s companions via Al-Hafez and Al-Nas channels. They are the same people who thought up the ready-made fatwas prohibiting the revolt against the ruler before and after Mursi. It doesn’t matter if the ruler is bearded and prays at dawn or if he is going to put us through hell.

Egypt’s future

But at this point, we wonder about the seriousness of statements and promises that Egypt will not fall under the control of religious fascism once again. The truth is in our Arab world, no matter how much authority pretends to be civil, it needs religion to provide a legitimate cover for everything it does.

During Mursi’s reign, accusations of disloyalty were made to demonize any political activity against the authority.

Religion turned from being a means to cleanse the soul into a tool used by whoever is in power to control the people and manipulate their emotions. The same goes for those who brag about their religious reference or who use political Islam as a scarecrow to strengthen their grip on power.

What’s funny is that both parties claim they represent moderate Islam. At the same time, each party accuses the other one of being weak in faith and of having a shallow understanding of religion. What’s painful is that they both use Al-Azhar as a bargaining card. At one point, they resort to Al-Azhar as the only representative of religion, and at another point, the Islamic parties reject Al-Azhar under the excuse that “it’s not Muslim enough.” At the same time, the civil movement, after being upset with how Al-Azhar is being treated, decided to reject the latter’s intervention in politics. What’s strange is that both parties, whether the Brotherhood camp or the military camp, used the Salafists, the most extremist faction, to pass and analyze their policies against the others.

In brief, everything we are witnessing is a huge charade. Even after we confirmed that using religion in politics insults religion and corrupts politics, the authority will always resort to religion as a quick and a guaranteed solution.

This reflects on the constitution which is currently being formulated. How can you tell us that the most important aspect is citizenship and then fail to come near sharia articles that can either be interpreted in a manner that achieves co-existence or in a manner that reaches extremism depending on who takes over Al-Azhar. We talk about rights of equality among citizens regardless of their religion and then we specify religions. In other words, if you are an Egyptian who embraces a religion other than the three specified ones or if you are an Egyptian who does not believe in these religions, then you do not have the same rights and duties which citizenship guarantees.

I know that the last line will spark huge criticism not only by Islamic movements but also by its opponents. If you are not busy bidding over the patriotism of your rivals, you can bid over the level of their faith.

I find it hard to believe that the state will really stand against fascism and religious extremism. I don't think this due to lack of trust in the state but because such an act requires honest and persistent efforts in the fields of education and awareness. It also requires elevating the values of equality, human rights and knowing your rights as a citizen. This means that citizens must know their rights and must mature on the political, religious and social levels.

This is where the problem lies.

Will the state take the risk of creating young generations that may one day be disobedient and that may revolt against brainwashing which is either carried out through religion or through using citizenship and conspiracy theories?
Can you willingly give up your best of weapons? Exploiting religion has been the most lucrative trade throughout history. Everyone exploits it and everyone makes profit out of it. Unfortunately, religion is the only loser.

This article was first published in the Egypt-based Al-Shorouk on September 4, 2013.


Bassem Youssef is an Egyptian doctor, satirist, and the host of El Bernameg ("The Program"), a satirical news program broadcast by a private Egyptian television station. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. Despite all controversy and legal debates it has sparked, El Bernameg has been a major success. It is constantly topping the regional YouTube charts, making Youssef's YouTube channel one of the most subscribed to in Egypt.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending